The impact of the 1916 Easter rising on the development of the Irish State

Easter Rising centenary: How the 1916 insurrection shaped modern Irish history

Author: Rozina Sabur – Telegraph

It as been 100 years since the Easter Rising. We look at how the armed insurrection played a role in the establishment of the Irish Free State

Irish rebels lying in wait on a roof getting ready to fire during the Easter Rising, 1916

Irish rebels lying in wait on a roof getting ready to fire during the Easter Rising, 1916  Photo: Getty

On Easter Monday 1916, a group of Irish nationalists staged a rebellion against the occupying British government in Ireland, in an attempt to establish an Irish Republic.

Dublin was devastated by the Sinn Féin revolt in 1916, known as the Easter Rising

The group of rebels hoped to spur the public into rebellion to overthrow the British, but didn’t attract much public support.

Though it had been planned across Ireland, the main unrest was in Dublin where around 1,600 rebels seized strategic buildings within the city. One of the seized buildings was the city’s General Post Office.


Patrick PearsePatrick Pearse

It was from here that one of the rising’s leaders, Patrick Pearse, proclaimed that Ireland was now an independent republic and that a provisional government had been set up. Several days of fighting between the rebels and British troops ensued.

Many of the rebels were members of a nationalist group called the Irish Volunteers, or a smaller more radical group, the Irish Citizen Army.

Within a week, the British had declared martial law across the country and suppressed the rebellion leaving around 450 dead and more than 2,000 injured. Much of Dublin’s centre was also destroyed.

Irish rebels are executed after the uprisingIrish rebels are executed after the uprising

Soon after 15 leaders of the rebellion, including the seven signatories of the proclamation, were held and executed by firing squad.

More than 3,000 suspected supporters were arrested, with around half being sent to England and imprisoned without trial.

Who were the key figures?

One of the rebels, Eamon de Valera, evaded a death sentence and dominated Ireland’s political landscape, first as Taoiseach, then as president.

Another, Roger Casement, had planned a shipment of German arms and ammunition for the rebels but it was detected by the British shortly before the Rising. Casement was charged with treason and executed in the summer of 1916.

Leaders of the uprising

Leaders of the uprising

Patrick Pearse, was part of the Irish Volunteer Force and played an active role in preparing for the Rising, though it is unlikely he fired any shots. Before his execution he was proclaimed President of the Provisional Government the rebels attempted to establish.

Trade union leader James Connolly was a key figure in the pro-independence movement. The image of a wounded Connolly facing a firing squad changed public opinion and was a key contribution to the bitterness against the British in Ireland.

Thomas Clarke, a republican revolutionary, had been in favour of armed revolution for most of his life. He spent 15 years in English prisons before his role in the Easter Rising, and was executed after it was thwarted.

Seán MacDiarmada, another signatory of the proclamation, was a member of the Military Committee of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Thomas MacDonagh, a political activist poet had also signed the proclamation. A member of the Gaelic League, he was a founding member of the Irish Volunteers with Pearse and Eoin MacNeill.

Éamonn Ceannt, another signatory of the proclamation, was on the military committee of the Irish Republican Board.

Joseph Plunkett , one of the original members of the military committee also signed the proclamation; largely responsible for the plan the rebels followed during the Easter Rising, his ill health prevented him from having too much active involvement.

What was the backdrop to the unrest?

A crucial moment in Ireland’s history, the Easter Rising of April 24, 1916 was predicated on growing tensions between Irish nationalists and the British government. Since the 1800 Act of Union which merged Ireland with the UK and the later potato famine in 1845-47, pressure had been mounting for Home Rule.

Children collect firewood from the ruined buildings damaged in the Easter Rising  Photo: Getty

The Act of Union meant Ireland lost its parliament in Dublin and was governed from Westminster.

Since its inception Irish nationalists had been staging their opposition to this shift of power. Nationalists lobbied for an arrangement whereby the country remained part of the UK but had some form of self-government.

It was not until 1914 that a bill to this effect was passed through Westminster, but its implementation was suspended at the outbreak of the First World War.

British soldiers guard an improvised armoured car made from a locomotive boiler and used to convey troops from point to point during the Sinn Fein 'Easter Rising' British soldiers guard an improvised armoured car made from a locomotive boiler and used to convey troops from point to point during the ‘Easter Rising’   Photo: PA/EMPICS

With the outbreak of the First World War, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) began planning the Easter Rising with military support from Germany; an underground group of revolutionaries they believed Home Rule did not yield enough and sought complete independence.

Why was the Easter Rising so significant?

At first the rebels’ actions were not met with much support from the Irish, but the executed leaders were later heralded as martyrs as public opinion shifted.

The harsh mass arrests and martial law, which stayed in place through the Autumn, fuelled the public’s resentment of the British, growing support for the rebels and Irish independence.

Ulster volunteers from the Ulster Unionist paramilitary force take part in training back in 1914

The UK’s 1918 general election saw the republican political party Sinn Fein win the majority of Irish seats. They then refused to sit in Westminster and in January 1919 met in Dublin to convene an Irish Parliament and declare Ireland’s Independence.

The rising was also a factor in the establishment of the Irish Free State – now the Republic of Ireland – in 1922, following a treaty agreement in 1921.

The Irish Republican Army launched an attack against the British government and its troops based in Ireland.

The 1921 ceasefire resulted in the two sides signing a treaty establishing the self-governing Irish Free State. Six northern counties in the province of Ulster opted out of the Free State and remained with the UK.

Michael Collins, chairman of the Irish Free State, addresses a crowd gathered for the great treaty meeting in College Green, Dublin, in this March 18, 1922

Michael Collins, chairman of the Irish Free State, addresses a crowd in Dublin in 1922  Photo: AP

A fully independent Republic of Ireland was formally proclaimed on Easter Monday 1949.

The Garden of Remembrance memorial in Parnell Square, Dublin  Photo: Alamy

The Queen has already said her family will “stand alongside” the Irish people when they mark the 100th anniversary, in a clear hint that a senior member of the Royal family may go to Dublin to mark the iconic event in Ireland’s history.

Academic institutions have put on an array of programmes for 2016. A key event is the national conference on 1916 and its impact on the life of the nation, hosted by NUI Galway in November 2016.

The National Museum has opened a major 1916 exhibition at Collins Barracks, Dublin.

Brendan O’Carroll, star of ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’, traces his uncles’ part in the 1916 Irish rebellion

British Regulars sniping from behind a barricade of empty beer casks near the quays in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising  Photo: Getty